Cover letters are something many job candidates really struggle with. Lots of people aren’t even convinced they’re necessary. With so many job applications happening these days via websites and apps –– surely that online form you filled out is all that’s needed?
A recent survey from Cultivated Culture found that, while 53% of employers prefer candidates who add cover letters with their CVs, only 10% of hiring managers actually take time to read them, which further adds to job applicants’ frustration. And if you’re job hunting and want to send out as many applications as possible, does writing an individualized cover letter for each job actually make a difference, or does it just make the process of finding a new job that much longer?
The question is, can you simply get a robot to write a tricky cover letter for you?
Using AI to write your cover letters
UK communications company Schwa decided to test the tool’s capabilities. Founder and owner Neil Taylor wanted to see how ChatGPT would fare when it came to a standard writing test, which the company sets for all prospective hires.
In a blog post, Taylor revealed that he asked ChatGPT to write 300 words on the secret of good writing. The process wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds. “I had to cheat a bit,” he said.
“I could tell it wasn’t good enough. So I tweaked the brief, and asked it to write in the voice of one of my colleagues. This made it a bit friendlier, but still not great. So then I asked it to write in the voice of copywriting guru Dave Trott. The result didn’t sound anything like Dave, but it was punchier.”
Taylor submitted three ChatGPT writing samples into the pool, and one made the cut. In fact, it came in the top 20% of all candidates shortlisted. Not a bad result, so when it comes to something even less complicated, like a fairly standard cover letter, should you be using ChatGPT?
We tested the tool to see how it would fare writing a cover letter for a software engineering job. Here’s the result:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to express my interest in the software engineering position at your company. With a passion for programming and a strong background in software development, I believe I would be a valuable addition to your team.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and over three years of professional experience in the industry. During my time at XYZ Corporation, I developed a wide range of software applications, from desktop applications to mobile apps, and have honed my skills in several programming languages including Java, Python, and C++. Additionally, I have experience working with databases, software architecture, and Agile methodologies, making me well-rounded in all aspects of software development.
In my most recent role, I was part of a team that developed a complex web-based system for a client. I was responsible for designing and implementing the server-side logic, ensuring its scalability and performance. Through this project, I demonstrated my ability to work effectively in a team and my dedication to delivering high-quality work on time.
I am excited about the opportunity to bring my skills and experience to your company and contribute to the development of innovative software solutions. I am particularly drawn to your company’s commitment to creating products that have a positive impact on people’s lives, and I believe my passion for technology and problem-solving would be a great fit for your team.
Thank you for considering my application. I am eager to discuss my qualifications further and am available for an interview at your convenience.
Even a quick scan of ChatGPT’s effort shows that the AI has nailed the format––something that can be a really tricky thing to get right. The language flows, it’s a readable, coherent piece of copy.
But because it knows nothing about the individual who wants to use this letter, all the details supplied are generic. A careful edit is required to add in your actual educational and job details, as well as skills and results.
Where ChatGPT can really help a job applicant is around the structure of creating a cover letter offering a very usable framework or template to add onto and personalize. It’s a great starting point.
However, as Taylor found, “AIs are brilliant at being average.” That additional level of human interaction is utterly necessary to get a ChatGPT-generated cover letter to a place where it’s ready to send. Taylor agrees: “If you’re writing something that actually needs to stand out, like a job application […] it’s not going to cut the mustard.”
There’s no doubt this new tool is immensely popular. It took Instagram and Spotify around 10 weeks and five months, respectively, to reach one million users, according to a report from CB Insights. ChatGPT reached a million users just five days after launching at the end of November 2022. By January of this year, it had reached 100 million monthly active users. By contrast, it took TikTok nine months to hit the same numbers.
That acceleration into mainstream adoption has had positive knock-on benefits. Employers predict that productivity will increase by 74%. And ChatGPT’s output will only improve through use, as the AI learns more about what users are looking for. This means the tool will only get better at creating cover letters that meet recruiters’ expectations.
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